A New Jersey judge has temporarily stopped St. Luke’s University Health Network from expelling eight Coordinated Health doctors from its hospital in Phillipsburg, N.J.
Last month, St. Luke’s told Coordinated Health doctors only St. Luke’s surgeons can use the Warren Campus hospital, a decision that affects 11 doctors, according to court documents and hospital officials. In response, Coordinated Health accused St. Luke’s of narrowing patient choice to squash competition, and asked a judge to stop the network from kicking out its doctors.
“St. Luke’s does not have the best interest of its patients in mind by prohibiting Coordinated Health physicians from its medical staff at Warren Hospital,” said Florence Brown, a spokeswoman for Coordinated Health.
That request was temporarily granted Friday, according to court documents.
St. Luke’s said it made the decision because non-St. Luke’s doctors did not perform enough surgeries, meet quality standards or share its goals. Coordinated Health doctors, many of whom have had privileges at St. Luke’s-Warren Campus for decades, also perform surgeries in other facilities.
“When surgeons perform surgeries so infrequently at our facilities, it makes it difficult for St. Luke’s to monitor their quality and outcomes,” said Sam Kennedy, a spokesman for St. Luke’s.
St. Luke’s and Coordinated Health each will make its case at a hearing March 15.
In recent years, St. Luke’s removed Coordinated Health doctors from its rotation of doctors who treat patients in the emergency room, said Dr. Jason Rudolph, a Coordinated Health doctor who has worked at the Warren County hospital for two decades. That decision affected the number of surgeries for Coordinated Health doctors, he said.
Kennedy said Coordinated Health doctors were taken off the rotation because they were referring patients elsewhere after treating them in the emergency room, which made it hard to track health progress.
Hospital systems prefer to use their own physicians because doctors can be held accountable to quality standards and experiment with different payment models, said Paul B. Ginsburg, the director of the University of Southern California-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy. As health systems consolidate, patients are encouraged to stay within one health system for everything from preventive care to laboratory testing to specialty care and surgery.
As a result, Coordinated Health officials say they’re getting squeezed out of these growing health networks. In 2017, Geisinger, a hospital network and insurance company, dropped Coordinated Health from its coverage. Coordinated Health, a 1,400-employee health system across eastern Pennsylvania and western New Jersey, is significantly smaller than its Lehigh Valley competitors, Lehigh Valley Health Network and St. Luke’s, which have about 18,000 and 15,000 employees, respectively.
Competition between two large health systems turned so sour in western Pennsylvania that the state attorney general intervened earlier this month to try to enforce a deal to prevent tens of thousands of residents from losing health coverage.
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